Renovating any part of a theatre is no small job, but upgrading systems while trying to preserve the historic and architectural integrity of these venues can be a huge challenge. Two such historic locations in Illinois, the Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet and the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan, recently underwent full lighting and dimming systems renovations, turning these antiquated gems into state-of-the-art performance spaces.


In Joliet this month, you can see a concert (Olivia Newton-John), musical theatre (Tony n' Tina's Wedding), or a stand up comedian (Bob Newhart), all at the majestic Rialto Square Theatre.

The Rialto was built in 1926 as a high-end movie house and with the goal of creating a “Palace for the People.” According to technical director Tina Salamone, the theatre features an ornate marble and sculpted plaster showplace patterned after the great structures of Europe, reminiscent, she points out, of the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles and the dome of the Pantheon.

“The auditorium is lavish and lush in golds and creams and deep reds with more classic influences around the proscenium and on the ceiling and walls,” says Salamone. “In contrast to this grandeur, the artists and theatre practitioners who work on the stage and behind the scenes operate in more spartan digs. There is virtually no crossover or wing space and no storage areas. Once on stage, you are in a space designed to service the needs of the day. Recalling our theatre history, that day in 1926 might have included a mostly drop-and-wing set. The stage is 29' 6" from the plaster line to the back wall with 37 line sets and four electrics…quite a facility for the first several decades of its existence but a bit tight when we try to cram the touring set of Rent on it.”

In addition to the relatively small stage house, the technology had not been upgraded since a prior restoration in the early 1980s. Salamone adds that the Rialto must have been one of the very few facilities operating that didn't own a single ETC Source Four prior to renovation. When it came time for a full lighting and dimming overhaul this time around, the theatre called in Chicago Spotlight and Todd Koeppl to help with a new system.

“I think Todd Koeppl at Chicago Spotlight is incredible, a true mix of technician and artist,” says Salamone. “When I said I wanted something visionary, and he started his sentence with, ‘This may seem kind of out there but…’ I knew I was talking to the right person. His suggestions embodied room for expansion with a trend toward the next wave of technology.”

Koeppl took on the project with a strategy that addressed the challenges of designing a highly flexible system with all the latest technology, one that would result in a system that can expand in the future but also be highly functional in its current state. “The venue is a true roadhouse and needed to be flexible but easily and quickly flexible,” says Koeppl, who designed the system.

While the house already had a DMX console prior to the renovation, it didn't have data distribution capabilities. The first draft of the new system design had DMX opto-splitters and DMX cable running throughout the space. “The new system ended up being designed mostly around the ETC Net2 backbone, but we added a few touches beyond the ETC norm, mostly to the stage manager's panel,” says Koeppl, “such as the Marshall Electronics Dual Active Matrix LCD Monitor, a very neat way to have remote video as well as multiple inputs for a camera and other devices that the stage manager might need to have access to, the Littlite Raklite, and the work surface and drawer storage. A lot of the time, these items are forgotten for the stage manager, especially when it is based on a standard 19" rack enclosure.” The new stage manager's panel includes a clock, timer, LCD screens, preset buttons, a pull out shelf for promptbook or cue sheets, and a lockable drawer.

While the new dimming system was a priority, new power and DMX boxes required a new control system also, so Koeppl utilized the existing ETC Express 48/96 as a faceplate and installed an Emphasis 2D control system to provide 500 control channels and the ability to access up to 37,000 dimmers, as well as complete network control.

The technical staff at the theatre also had some demands that Koeppl had to incorporate into the design of the system, so a lot of the design considers the everyday functionality of the theatre and its staff. “It's a departure from the norm,” says Salamone. “Todd's design utilizes CAT5 network cable which is inexpensive and much easier to install. Specs were based not only on the kinds of things I thought we needed but also from many hours of consulting with members of IATSE Local 124, touring lighting designers, and industry insiders.”

One example is a network rack up in the dome in the ceiling in between the two front-of-house catwalks. According to Koeppl, it serves two purposes: the first is to break up the network cable run from the booth to the stage manager's panel, which was pushing 300'; and second, it houses a DMX node which allows for DMX and RFU connections in the catwalks. “Having the RFU in the catwalk alone simplifies the work calls, since it is quite a climb to get up there,” he says.

The rack in the dome also solved an issue of the length of cable run between the booth and dimmer room. “Tracing conduit runs through rather dank underground tunnels is never fun, but the challenges have all been minor thanks to pre-planning and good project management,” adds Koeppl. “Our project manager for this job, Matt Pearlman, is constantly solving the little challenges before they become big ones. Organization is the key.”


Just about 70 miles away in Waukegan, the renovation of the 78-year-old, 115,000-sq.ft. Genesee started back in October 2004 and was completed this summer. With expansive lobbies and lounges, a stage that has been doubled in size, and a newly expanded balcony with seating for over 2,400, the lighting and dimming system also required an extensive overhaul.

As a movie house capable of featuring music and live entertainment, the theatre originally opened in 1927. In October 1982, the last premiering motion picture was shown, and the venue closed its doors completely in 1989 due to increasing financial pressures. Remaining vacant for over a decade, the Genesee then began a $23 million renovation as part of the city's downtown renovation project.

Theatre restoration specialist Ray Sheperdson brought in Dave Marks of Advanced Technology Consultants to renovate the lighting system. Barbizon Lighting Company in Chicago and systems manager Tobin Neis supplied the gear.

“With such a rich history, the complete integration of the lighting and controls system will serve as a benchmark for performance venues around the world who are seeking to upgrade their systems through a retrofit installation,” says Marks.

For control, the theatre chose the Entertainment Technology (ET) Marquee ILC for all dimming systems, automated lighting fixtures, and DMX devices.

“Before, we were operating with total manual control and no on-the-fly programming of the automated lighting systems that were brought in for the performances,” said Genesee Theatre head electrician Karl Urban. “[That is] very difficult when you have as short load-in time for a touring group. I hope in six months to be doing things with the lighting control that even we haven't thought of yet. But one thing is for sure: I don't come to work with the fear of needing to use moving lights anymore.”

With control figured out, attention was turned to adding new dimming locations throughout the house. Dimming was needed in four new locations: at front of house, on the balcony rail, on house right, and on house left. ET's Intelligent Raceway distributed dimming systems were installed for these extra locations.

“The biggest convenience with the Intelligent Raceway is that there is DMX and dimming already run inside to give extra freedom with hot pockets every five to seven feet,” adds Urban.

The dimming was installed adjacent to the lights it controls; therefore, the Genesee was able to avoid the extensive load wiring and installation costs. Coincidentally, the theatre also needed a new rack-based dimming system to handle all the architectural dimming for the theatre, but it also needed to be able to control the dimming for the existing overhead stage lighting.

“In looking at the intricacies of the renovation, we realized that we needed to utilize a combination of distributed and rack-based dimming, so that we could save time and money but still achieve a fantastic dimming system throughout the entire facility,” says Marks. Capio Plus dimmer racks were installed to handle all of the remaining dimming loads.

“Since we are splitting the dimming between the architectural and stage lighting, we had to have dimmer racks that could easily communicate with and handle both,” says Urban.

A Horizon Playback Controller was also installed to interface with custom architectural push-button stations, which allow complete integrated control of the house and stage lighting from architectural stations located throughout the theatre. And by installing Pathway Connectivity's Pathport Manager and Pathport Nodes across an Ethernet network, the Genesee enabled DMX512 control protocol to be distributed throughout the remainder of the performance space.

The Genesee Theatre showcases many national and regional tours with unique lighting design needs. In order to enhance the existing lighting inventory and to eliminate daily reconfiguration of the lighting positions, the theatre also added five VARI*LITE VL1000 Arc luminaires to round out the renovation.

Rialto Square Theatre

Joliet, IL
Provided by Chicago Spotlight

Dimming System

5 ETC Sensor+ SR48 Dimming Rack
216 Dual 20A dimmer modules (432 dimmers)

Emphasis Control System

1 ETC Emphasis with 500 Channels

Architectural Control System

1 ETC Unison® Control Station, Four Presets, Off
2 ETC Unison Control Station
1 ETC Unison Portable Unison LCD Station

System Control Accessories

1 ETC Remote Focus Unit

Control System

SMP Control Equipment Rack:
1 19" EIA Rack, Black
1 ETC Unison LCD touchscreen panel
1 ETC Unison 10-Button Station
1 ETC Rackmount Ethernet Node, 3 DMX out, 1 DMX in connector
1 Littlite Dual Rackmount Worklight
1 ESE 572 Clock/Timers
1 Marshall Electronics Dual 8.4" Rackmount Active Matrix LCD Panel
1 Linksys EtherFast II 10/100 24-port Twisted-pair switch
1 PowerDsine 12-port power-over- Ethernet power supply
1 Patch Panel

AUX Control Equipment Rack

1 19" EIA Rack, Black
1 ETC Unison Processor
1 ETC Control Module with dimming processors and Unison Extended Architectural processor
1 Linksys EtherFast II 10/100 16-port Twisted-pair switch
1 PowerDsine 6-port power-over-Ethernet power supply
1 Patch Panel

Catwalk AUX Control Equipment Rack

1 19" EIA Rack, Black
1 ETC Rackmount Ethernet Node
1 Linksys EtherFast II 10/100 16-port Twisted-pair switch
1 Patch Panel

Genesee Theatre

Waukegan, IL
Provided by Barbizon Chicago

Dimming System

2 Entertainment Technology Capio Plus Dimmer Rack
90 ET Capio Plus Dual 20A HP Dimmer Module
8 ET Capio Plus Dual 20A Constant Circuit Module
1 UL 1008 Emergency Transfer Cabinet for 8 - 20A Loads
2 400A Fused Company Switch

Control System

1 ET Marquee ILC Lighting Control Console
2 Pathway Connectivity Pathport DMX Output Node
2 Pathway Connectivity Pathport Portable Enclosure

Architectural Controls

1 Portable Control Position: Portable Station with 8-preset buttons (house) and 6-preset buttons (portable)
1 House Manager Control Position: Control Station with 8-preset buttons (house) and 6-preset buttons (lobby) with locking cover

Control Equipment Racks

Stage Managers Control Position
1 Middle Atlantic Equipment Rack
1 Horizon Theatrical/Architectural Control Electronics
1 Horizon Architectural Control Station Interface
1 8-Button Control Station (house)
1 6-Button Control Station (lobby)

System Computer

1 Windows XP Laptop Computer
1 ET RCM Configuration Software
1 ET Guardian Status Reporting Software
1 Pathway Pathport Network Manager Software

Power Distribution

House Truss Position
1 ET Intelligent Raceway - 48' with 18 Dual 20A dimmers and 6 constant circuits
Balcony Rail Position
1 ET Intelligent Raceway - 40'-0" with 12 Dual 20A dimmers and 6 constant circuits
Box Boom Positions
2 ET Intelligent Raceway - 12'-0" with 10 Dual 20A dimmers and 4 constant circuits
6 Floor Pocket
18 Stage Drop Box
18 60' Multicable Drops w/VEAM output connectors and Kellums Strain Relief

Auditorium Fixtures and Accessories

20 ETC Source Four® 26° Ellipsoidal
36 ETC Source Four 19° Ellipsoidal
45 ETC Source Four 10° Ellipsoidal
40 ETC Source Four PAR
6 Altman 3-cell Cyc Light
L&E 3-cell Cyc Striplight
5 Vari-Lite VL1000 ERS
24 High End Systems ColorMerge
1 Lycian XLT 2kW Xenon Followspot


5 10' Medium Duty Truss, Black
4 50lb. Boom Base
2 4-rung Light Ladder
1 ET 750W BakPak Dimmer